On Thanksgiving Day, I’m not sure I’m thankful for the 24-hour news cycle. Not long ago, as I was stuck in L.A. traffic, I kept hearing teasers on my favorite radio station: the verdict by the Grand Jury regarding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, would be coming soon. As the clock ticked on, and my car inched its way homeward, suspense mounted. Would police officer Darren Wilson be indicted, or walk away a free man? Would a growing crowd outside the courthouse react peacefully, or erupt into violence? By now we know the answers to those questions. I strongly believe in the right – and the responsibility -- of a free press to tell the public what’s happening in the world. Still, at times it seemed that journalists were holding their collective breaths, just waiting for a town to go up in flames. Which, of course, would make a great top-of-the-hour story.
The idea that news coverage influences current events is not a recent one. Back in the Sixties, young people protesting the war in Vietnam and advancing their own New Left agenda would chant, “The whole world is watching!” They were right, of course. Thanks to television and other forms of mass media, their message was circling the globe. Today, the Internet has made instant messaging all the easier. The demonstrators participating in the so-called Arab Spring knew they were performing for the cameras, and that their struggles against the status quo (captured on cell phones as well as by professional news videographers) would quickly gain world-wide attention. And now, sadly, the shrewd maniacs in charge of the so-called Islamic State have discovered that video is a dandy recruiting tool. They stage the beheading of a western journalist or aid worker, then distribute the graphic footage to the news media worldwide. Soon ISIS’s latest coup is the lead item on news broadcasts everywhere, and the bloody images become must-see attractions on YouTube.